The Higher Education Loan Programme

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1 The Auditor-General Audit Report No Performance Audit Department of Education, Science and Training Australian National Audit Office

2 Commonwealth of Australia 2007 ISSN ISBN COPYRIGHT INFORMATION This work is copyright. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be reproduced by any process without prior written permission from the Commonwealth. Requests and inquiries concerning reproduction and rights should be addressed to the Commonwealth Copyright Administration, Attorney-General s Department, Robert Garran Offices, National Circuit Barton ACT

3 Canberra ACT 26 June 2007 Dear Mr President Dear Mr Speaker The Australian National Audit Office has undertaken a performance audit in the Department of Education, Science and Training in accordance with the authority contained in the Auditor-General Act Pursuant to Senate Standing Order 166 relating to the presentation of documents when the Senate is not sitting, I present the report of this audit and the accompanying brochure. The report is titled. Following its presentation and receipt, the report will be placed on the Australian National Audit Office s Homepage Yours sincerely Ian McPhee Auditor-General The Honourable the President of the Senate The Honourable the Speaker of the House of Representatives Parliament House Canberra ACT 3

4 AUDITING FOR AUSTRALIA The Auditor-General is head of the Australian National Audit Office. The ANAO assists the Auditor-General to carry out his duties under the Auditor-General Act 1997 to undertake performance audits and financial statement audits of Commonwealth public sector bodies and to provide independent reports and advice for the Parliament, the Government and the community. The aim is to improve Commonwealth public sector administration and accountability. For further information contact: The Publications Manager Australian National Audit Office GPO Box 707 Canberra ACT 2601 Telephone: (02) Fax: (02) ANAO audit reports and information about the ANAO are available at our internet address: Audit Team Dr Paul Nicoll John Reid Mark Rogala Sabrina Taylor-Cannon 4

5 Contents Abbreviations...7 Glossary... 8 Summary and Recommendations Summary Background Audit objective and scope Overall Conclusion Key Findings Setting Student Contributions HECS HELP Payments ATO Recording of Student HECS HELP Debts Recommendations DEST s response ATO s response Recommendations Audit Findings and Conclusions Introduction Background Audit objective Audit scope and methodology Audit cost Structure of this report Setting Student Contributions Introduction Monitoring legislative compliance Conclusion HECS HELP Payments Introduction Estimating HECS HELP payments to higher education providers HECS HELP advance payments Reconciliation of HECS HELP payments Recording and reporting HECS-HELP payments Conclusion

6 4. Australian Taxation Office Recording of Student HECS HELP Debts Introduction Transfer of HECS-HELP data from higher education providers to DEST Transfer of HECS-HELP data from DEST to the ATO ATO recording of HECS-HELP debts to students tax records ATO notification to students of their HECS HELP debt ATO HECS HELP debt dispute resolution Conclusion Appendices Appendix 1: Calculation of HECS HELP payment to higher education providers Appendix 2: Calculation of HECS HELP assistance provided to higher education providers Appendix 3: DEST processes for verifying the accuracy of HECS HELP data from higher education providers Index Series Titles...72 Current Better Practice Guides Tables Table 1.1 HELP Programmes Table 2.2 Student contribution bands for Figures Figure 3.1 Sources of revenue for higher education providers Figure 3.2 Reconciliation of HECS HELP payments to higher education providers in

7 Abbreviations ATO DEST HECS HELP TFN AustralianTaxationOffice DepartmentofEducation,ScienceandTraining HigherEducationContributionScheme HigherEducationLoanProgramme TaxFileNumber 7

8 Glossary Censusdate Commonwealth contribution amount Commonwealth GrantScheme Commonwealth supportedplace Acensusdateforaunitofstudymeansadatedetermined byahighereducationproviderasthedatefordetermining thepopulationofstudentsenrolledwiththeprovider.this dateistobenoearlierthan20percentoftheperiodduring whichtheunitisundertaken. The Commonwealth contribution amount is the amount that the Commonwealth contributes to a Commonwealth supported student s unit of study under the CommonwealthGrantScheme.Theamountfundedbythe Commonwealth is legislated and depends on the funding clusterintowhichindividualunitsofstudyareclassified. The Commonwealth Grant Scheme is the mechanism through which the Australian Government gives higher education providers a contribution towards the cost of an agreednumberofcommonwealthsupportedplaces.each higher education institution that receives funds under the Commonwealth Grant Scheme enters into a Funding Agreement with the Commonwealth with annual negotiations taking place over the number of places and disciplinethatthecommonwealthwillsupport. A Commonwealth supported place is a higher education place for which the Australian Government makes a financial contribution through the Commonwealth Grant Scheme to the higher education provider. It is one of the ways in which the Government contributes to the cost of students education. 8

9 Courseofstudy Enablingcourse (place) EquivalentFull TimeStudent Load FundingCluster Higher educationaward Higher Education Provider Studentlearning entitlement Acourseofstudyis: anenablingcourse;or asinglecourseleadingtoahighereducationaward; or acourserecognisedbytheproviderasacombined or double degree leading to one or more higher educationawards. A course of instruction provided to a person for the purpose of enabling the person to undertake a course leadingtoahighereducationaward. Thisisanequivalentfulltimestudentload.Itisameasure of the study load, for a year, of a student undertaking a courseofstudyonafulltimebasis. The categories into which individual units of study are classified and which determine the funding that the Commonwealthcontributes. Ahighereducationawardisdefinedas: a degree, status, title or description of bachelor, master,ordoctorate;or an award of a graduate diploma or graduate certificate;or any other award specified as a higher education award under the Australian Qualifications Framework. Thisisabodycorporatethatisapprovedtoprovidehigher educationunderthehighereducationsupportact2003. Thestudentlearningentitlemententitlesapersontoseven years of equivalent fulltime study in a Commonwealth supported place. For certain courses and under specific circumstances,thisentitlementmaybeincreased. 9

10 Tuitionfees Upfront Payment Tuition,examinationorotherfeespayabletoaproviderby the student enrolled, or applying for enrolment, with the provider; and/or fees payable for the granting of a higher educationaward. A payment (not via HECS HELP or Fee HELP) made on behalfofastudent,beforethecensusdate,fortuitioncosts foraunitofstudy. 10

11 Summary and Recommendations 11

12 12

13 Summary Background 1. The Australian Government, through the Department of Education, ScienceandTraining(DEST),offersarangeofassistancetoapproved higher educationprovidersandeligiblestudentstoassistinprovidingandpayingfor education. 2. Since 1989, Australian students in Australian Government funded highereducationplaceshavebeenrequiredtocontributetowardsthecostof their education through a variety of schemes, including through the Higher EducationContributionScheme(HECS). 3. In response to a review of Australia s higher education system completed in 2002, the Australian Government announced changes to Australia s higher education policy, which it enacted through the Higher Education Support Act The changes are set out by the Australian Government in the Our Universities: Backing Australia s Future (May 2003) policy The changes affected the way the Commonwealth supports students accesstohighereducation.oneofthekeychangeswasthereplacementofthe fourpreviousloanschemesandtheintroductionofthehighereducationloan Programme (HELP). On 1 January 2005, the HELP replaced existing loan schemes 2 andbecametheprimarysourceofaustraliangovernmentassistance tostudentswithhighereducationcosts.thehelpconsistsofthreedifferent loanprogrammes:hecs HELP,FEE HELPandOS HELP. 5. In 2005, the total operating revenue of higher education institutions was $14.3 billion. Of this revenue, $5.9 billion was from Australian Government grants. Other Australian Government payments included $1.9billion 3 forloanstoassiststudentstomeettheircontributiontowardsthe costofeducation <http://www.backingaustraliasfuture.gov.au/reforms.htm>. The four schemes were the Postgraduate Education Loan Scheme, the Bridging for Overseas Trained Professionals Loan Scheme, the Open Learning Deferred Payment Scheme and HECS. This amount comprises $1.6 billion for HECS HELP and $289 million for FEE HELP. Higher Education Report 2005, DEST, January 2007, p. 5. <http://www.dest.gov.au/sectors/higher_education/publications_resources/profiles/highered_annual_rep ort_2005.htm>. 13

14 6. HECS HELP assistance comes as either a loan available to eligible students enrolled in Commonwealth supported places or as a discount for students paying all or part of their student contribution upfront. A HECS HELP loan may cover all or part of the amount that a Commonwealth supported student is required to contribute towards their higher education tuitioncosts.ahecs HELPdiscountof20percentappliesifthestudentpays at least $500 of the student contribution upfront. In 2005, upfront student contributionsamountedto$396million For students that enter into a HECS HELP loan or receive a HECS HELP discount, the Australian Government pays the amount of assistance directly to the higher education provider on the student s behalf. A HECS HELP debt 6 is recorded by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) for each studentthatreceivesassistance.repaymentsoftheloanarerequiredwhenthe studentearnsacertainlevelofincomeperannum In 2005, students attended Australian higher education providers.ofthese,717681weredomesticstudentsand239495wereoverseas students. 8 In 2005, the Australian Government agreed to fund Commonwealth supported places at eligible higher education providers. Of those students required to pay student contributions, approximately 77 per centdeferredallorpartoftheirstudentcontributionandreceivedaloan,and 21 per cent paid their full student contribution, upfront and received a discount The recording of HECS HELP loans has significant financial implications for students, the higher education providers and the Australian Government.At30June2005,around1.1millionpeoplehadaHELP 11 debt. Theaveragedebtwas$ Therepaymentofthisdebt,whichcantakein ibid., p. 5. A HECS HELP debt is the balance of the student s loan. In compulsory HECS HELP repayments commenced when a student s income reached $ Higher Education Report 2005, op. cit., p. 10. ibid., p. 27. ibid., p. 75. On 1 June 2006, all existing HECS debts were combined with HECS HELP, FEE HELP and OS HELP debts, to become accumulated HELP debts. Higher Education Report 2005, op. cit., p

15 Summary excess of five years 13, affects a person s disposable income. As such, the accuratechargingoftuitioncostsbyhighereducationprovidersandrecording ofstudentloansbydestandtheatoisofparticularinteresttostudents. 10. HECS HELPfundingrepresentsamajorsourceofrevenueforhigher educationproviders. 14 UnderpaymentofHECS HELPassistancecanhavean adverse affect on the ability of higher education providers to deliver higher education. 11. The outstanding HECS HELP debt represents an amount that is recoverable through the taxation system. At 30 June 2006, the fair value 15 as reported by DEST of the loans owed by students for higher education assistance was $8.2 billion. 16 The nominal debt amount was $12.9 billion at 30June 2006 and $11.5 billion at 30 June The valuation of the loans is currentlysubjecttoanactuarialreviewfor financialstatements. 17 The accuraterecordingofthisdebtisimportanttoprovideassurancethatdest s, and the Government s, financial statements correctly reflect the amount recoverable. Audit objective and scope Audit objective 12. Theobjectiveoftheauditwastoassesstheeffectivenessofprocedures and processes used by DEST and the ATO to record HECS HELP student loans.toachievethis,theanaoassessedtheperformanceofdestandthe ATOagainstthreecriteriaasfollows: DEST monitored student contributions set by higher education providersforconsistencywithaustraliangovernmentpolicy; The repayment term is determined by the size of the debt and the income of the person who has accumulated the debt. For example, a person with an average annual income of $ and a HELP debt of $10 000, will take around five years to repay their debt if they make only compulsory repayments. In 2005, HECS HELP funding was in excess of 11 per cent of the total operating revenue of higher education providers as calculated from the Higher Education Report 2005, op. cit., p. 6. The Australian equivalent to International Financial Reporting Standards (AIFRS), require the debt to be measured at fair value. Fair value is determined by taking the initial debt and deducting amounts that are not expected to be recovered, ie providing for bad and doubtful debts. Department of Education, Science and Training, Annual Report , pp <http://www.dest.gov.au/portfolio_department/dest_information/publications_resources/profiles/dest_ann ual_report_2005_2006.htm>. ibid. 15

16 DEST paid HECS HELP advance payments to higher education providers based on sound estimates, and recorded, reconciled and reportedthesepayments;and theatohasestablishedproceduresandprocessestocorrectlyrecord HECS HELPloansagainststudenttaxrecords. Audit scope 13. TheauditfocussedontheHECS HELPbecausetheseloansconstitute approximately83percentofallhelploans.theauditexaminedwhether: student contribution amounts that are being set by higher education providersareconsistentwithaustraliangovernmentpolicy; theadvancepayments 18 tohighereducationprovidersforstudentloan assistancearebasedonreasonableestimates; the advance payments provided to higher education providers are comparedtoactualstudentloandata,andanyoverorunderpayments aretreatedappropriately; amounts for student loan assistance are paid to higher education providersandrecordedindest sfinancialaccounts;and the ATO correctly recorded students loan amounts against the students taxrecords. 14. The audit excluded the repayment phase of HECS HELP loans administeredbytheatothroughtheincometaxassessmentprocess. Overall Conclusion 15. Overall,DESTwaseffectivelymonitoringstudentcontributionssetby higher education providers for consistency with Australian Government policy. DEST has also established effective procedures and processes to pay HECS HELPadvancepaymentstohighereducationprovidersbasedonsound estimates,andtorecord,reconcileandreportthesepayments. 16. ThereweretwomainareasintheadministrationofHECS HELPwhere theanaoconsidereddestcouldimproveadministrativepractices.thefirst 18 The Australian Government, through DEST, provides the amount of student contribution that students are borrowing to higher education providers throughout the year in which the students incur the debt. DEST pays the higher education providers based on how much DEST considers students will borrow. This payment is referred to as an advance payment. 16

17 Summary concernedstrengtheningitsmonitoringroleinrelationtostudentcontribution amounts charged by higher education providers, confirming that they were acting in a manner consistent with the legislation. The second concerned the need for a more timely reconciliation of HECS HELP payments to enable DEST to report HECS HELP payments in the financial year that they were made. 17. DESThasimplementedcontrolstoprovideassuranceontheintegrity, completeness and accuracy of HECS HELP data transferred from the higher education providers to DEST, and also from DEST to the ATO to record studenthecs HELPloans.TheATOhasestablishedeffectiveproceduresand processestorecordhecs HELPloansagainststudenttaxrecords. 17

18 Key Findings Setting Student Contributions (Chapter 2) 18. DEST has established procedures and processes for ensuring the requirements of the Higher Education Support Act 2003 are met by higher education providers, and that amounts charged to students, are accurate. Specifically, DEST developed sound guidance to assist higher education providerstointerpretandimplementtherequirementsofthe HigherEducation Support Act DEST also implemented a series of controls designed to provide assurance that higher education providers comply with legislative requirementsonthechargingoffees. 19. However, DEST would benefit from documenting its compliance procedures. This would assist staff to monitor higher education providers compliancewithlegislativerequirementsonthepublishing 19 andchargingof studentcontributionamountsandtuitionfees. 20. DEST performed a number of validation checks on the accuracy of amounts charged to students. However, as part of its monitoring role, DEST could institute sample checks of amounts charged by higher education providersforconsistencywithpublishedratesorwiththeschedulesofstudent contribution amounts provided to its Minister. This would provide further assurancethathighereducationproviderswereactinginamannerconsistent withthelegislation. HECS HELP Payments (Chapter 3) 21. DESThasproceduresfortheestimation,paymentandreconciliationof HECS HELPpayments.DEST sapproachtocalculatingtheestimatefor2005 produced a reasonably accurate result. DEST estimated an amount of $1.72billionforHECS HELPpaymentstohighereducationproviderswhereas theactualamountofhecs HELPassistanceaccessedwas$1.65billion.This wasadifferenceofapproximately$70million(fourpercent). 22. However,DESThasnotdocumenteditsproceduresforthepreparation and approval of the HECS HELP estimate. This increases the risk of inconsistency in the preparation and approval of the HECS HELP estimate whichcouldaffectitsaccuracy. 19 Higher education providers are required to publish schedules of student contributions. 18

19 Key Findings 23. DESTmadeadvancepaymentstohighereducationprovidersbasedon the estimated value of HECS HELP assistance that each higher education providerwillrequire,andinaccordancewiththepaymentschedulethatwas specifiedinthemanualforproviders. 20 DESThasimplementedprocessesand controlstoprovideassurancethatthesepaymentsaremadeasrequired. 24. DESTreceivedthedatarequiredtoperformareconciliationofHECS HELP by 31 March However, internal validation processes delayed completion of the reconciliation until December 2006, eight months after the scheduleddate. 22 ThisresultedindelayedrecoveryofHECS HELPassistance overpaymentsmadetohighereducationprovidersandanopportunitycostto thecommonwealth. 25. Thenetreconciliationvarianceofapproximately$70millionrepresents anamountthatwasreceivablebythedepartment.althoughnotmaterialfrom a financial statement perspective, the receivable would have been better accountedforinthedepartment sfinancialstatementsat30june2006.dest was not in a position to do this because of the delay in completing its reconciliation. The delay meant that all recoveries and additional payments were made in one instalment (the final instalment for the calendar year), in middecember2006.destaccountedforthesevariancesatthetimeofthese adjustmentsindecember2006,ratherthanintheearlierfinancialyear, DESTproceduresforthereconciliationofHECS HELPassistancewere notdocumentedtosupportthecorrectandconsistentimplementationofthese procedures.thiscouldresultinhighereducationprovidersbeingincorrectly funded. Australian Taxation Office Recording of Student HECS HELP Debts (Chapter 4) 27. HighereducationprovidersmusttransmittoDESTstudentenrolment information captured on the census date. 23 This enrolment information Administrative information for providers: student support, DEST Funding and Student Support Branch, Higher Education Group, April <http://www.dest.gov.au/sectors/higher_education/publications_resources/summaries_brochures/resour ces_for_student_administrators.htm>. DEST completed its first reconciliation process in December 2006 for the 2005 calendar year. Administrative information for providers: student support, op. cit., p August for census dates in the first half of the year and 31 March for census dates in the second half of the previous year. 19

20 includestheactualamountofhecs HELPassistanceprovidedtothestudent, andisthesourcefortheatorecordingofstudenthecs HELPdebts. 28. DESThasimplementedcontrolstoprovideassuranceontheintegrity, completeness and accuracy of HECS HELP data transferred from the higher education providers to DEST. However, these controls could be enhanced to manage the risk that a higher education provider will not follow the correct submission processes by submitting an unencrypted enrolment file to DEST. DESTadvisedthatitwillenhanceitscontrolsin2008,byusingnewsoftware whichwill preventhighereducationprovidersfromsubmittingunencrypted filestodest.desthasalsoestablishedprocessestoprovideassuranceonthe completeandaccuratetransmissionofthisdatatotheatotorecordstudent HECS HELPloans. 29. The ATO has established processes to provide assurance that HECS HELPdebtindexationisappliedcorrectlyanddebtsarerecordedagainstthe correct student tax file records. The ATO produces and distributes HELP informationstatementsforeachpersonwithahelpdebt,aftertheindexation process.thenoticedetailsthebalanceofeachperson shecs HELPdebtand any movements that have occurred during the year, such as new debts, repaymentsandindexation.theatohasestablishedamechanismtoresolve disputesabouttheaccuracyandtheamountofhecs HELPstudentdebt. 30. TheATO received44000enquiriesabout HECS HELPin ,of whichonly37werecategorisedascomplaints.someofthe37complaintswere customerserviceissuesratherthanhighereducationloanenquiries. Recommendations 31. TheANAOmadetworecommendationsconcerningDEST srecording ofstudentloans.desthasagreedtobothrecommendations. DEST s response 32. TheDepartmentofEducation,ScienceandTraining(DEST)welcomes the findings of the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) that overall DEST effectively monitored student contributions for consistency with AustralianGovernmentpolicyandhadestablishedeffectiveprocedurestopay advance payments based on sound estimates and to record, reconcile and report these payments. DEST accepts the ANAO s recommendations that documentation of existing procedures and processes be improved, further checksonchargingofstudentcontributionsbeintroducedandimprovements 20

21 Key Findings be made to the timeliness of reconciling HECS HELP advance payments. DEST has already completed part of the work to consolidate existing documentation of processes and procedures. DEST believes that existing mechanisms allow students to ensure they are charged the correct student contributionfortheirstudiesbutwillundertakeasamplingofstudentrecords tocheckwhetherthereareinstancesofproviderschargingincorrectamounts. DEST has developed further the processes for reconciling HECS HELP payments in a more timely manner. DEST has conducted a midyear review whichwilladjust2006hecs HELPadvancepaymentssothatthevariancein thefinalreconciliationshouldbereduced. ATO s response 33. Thecorrectrecordingandongoingmanagementofstudentloansunder the Higher Education Loan Programme is important to the Tax Office. We welcome the ANAO s recognition of the Tax Office s established processes whichprovideassurancethathecs HELPdebtindexationisappliedcorrectly andthatdebtsarerecordedagainstthecorrectstudenttaxfilerecords. 34. The Tax Office notes there are no recommendations concerning our performanceinyourreport. 21

22 Recommendations Set out below are the ANAO s recommendations. Report paragraph references and abbreviateddestresponsesarealsoincluded. Recommendation No. 1 Para 2.24 Recommendation No. 2 Para 3.24 The ANAO recommends that, to reduce the risk of inaccurately charging student contributions, DEST performsamplecheckstoconfirmthatamountscharged by higher education providers are consistent with their published rates and with the schedule of student contributionamountsprovidedtotheminister. DEST sresponse:agreed. TheANAOrecommendsthatDEST: documents procedures to assist in consistently andcorrectly: monitoring higher education providers compliance with legislative requirements on the accurate publishing of HECS HELP student contribution amounts and tuitionfees;and estimating, paying and reconciling HECS HELP payments to higher educationproviders;and establishes procedures and processes that will allow completion of the HECS HELP reconciliationsinatimelymanner. DEST sresponse:agreed. 22

23 Audit Findings and Conclusions 23

24 24

25 1. Introduction ThisChapterdescribesthebackgroundtotheaudit,andsetsouttheauditobjectiveand scope, methodology, and structure of the report. It includes discussion of the Australian higher education framework, and recent changes that have led to the implementationofthehighereducationloanprogramme. Background 1.1 The Australian Government, through the Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST), and its predecessors, have provided financial support to higher education students for many years. The Australian Government shighereducationpolicyenableseligiblestudentsstudyingwith approved higher education providers to receive financial assistance towards theirhighereducationcosts. 1.2 In 2005, students attended Australian higher education providers.ofthese,717681weredomesticstudentsand239495wereoverseas students The Australian Government offers a range of assistance to approved higher education providers and their students to assist in providing and paying for education. Since 1989, Australian students in Australian Governmentfundedhighereducationplaceshavebeenrequiredtocontribute towards the cost of their education through a variety of schemes, including throughthehighereducationcontributionscheme(hecs). 1.4 In 2005, the total operating revenue of higher education institutions was$14.3billion,thisincluded$5.9billionfromaustraliangovernmentgrants and$1.9billion 25 forloanstoassiststudentstomeettheircontributiontowards thecostofeducation The Commonwealth Grant Scheme is the mechanism through which the Australian Government offers higher education providers a contribution towards the cost of an agreed number of Commonwealth supported places. Each higher education institution that receives funds under the Commonwealth Grant Scheme enters into a Funding Agreement with the Higher Education Report 2005, op. cit., p. 6. This amount comprises $1.6 billion for HECS HELP and $289 million for FEE HELP. Higher Education Report 2005, op. cit., p

26 Commonwealth, with annual negotiations taking place over the numbers of placesanddisciplinesthatthecommonwealthwillsupport. 1.6 In 2005, the Australian Government agreed to fund Commonwealth supported places at eligible higher education providers. Of those students required to pay student contributions, approximately 77 per centdeferredallorpartoftheirstudentcontributionandreceivedaloan,and 21 per cent paid their full student contribution upfront and received a discount At 30 June 2005, around 1.1 million people had a Higher Education Loan Programme (HELP) 29 debt. The average debt was $ The repayment of this debt, which can take in excess of five years 31, affects a person sdisposableincome.assuch,theaccuratechargingoftuitioncostsby higher education providers and recording of student loans by DEST and the AustralianTaxationOffice(ATO),isofparticularinteresttostudents. 1.8 HECS HELPfundingrepresentsamajorsourceofrevenueforhigher educationproviders. 32 UnderpaymentofHECS HELPassistancecanhavean adverse affect on the ability of higher education providers to deliver higher education. 1.9 The outstanding HECS HELP debt represents an amount that is recoverable through the taxation system. At 30 June 2006, the fair value 33 as reported by DEST of the loans owed by students for higher education assistance was $8.2 billion. 34 The nominal debt amount was $12.9 billion at 30June 2006 and $11.5 billion at 30 June The valuation of the loans is currentlysubjecttoanactuarialreviewfor financialstatements. 35 The ibid., p. 27. ibid., p. 75. On 1 June 2006, all existing HECS debts were combined with HECS HELP, FEE HELP and OS HELP debts, to become accumulated HELP debts. Higher Education Report 2005, op. cit., p. 81. The repayment term is determined by the size of the debt and the income of the person who has accumulated the debt. For example, a person with an average annual income of $ and a HELP debt of $10 000, will take around five years to repay their debt if they make only compulsory repayments. In 2005, HECS HELP funding was in excess of 11 per cent of the total operating revenue of higher education providers as calculated from the Higher Education Report 2005, op. cit., p. 6. The Australian equivalent to International Financial Reporting Standards (AIFRS), require the debt to be measured at fair value. Fair value is determined by taking the initial debt and deducting amounts that are not expected to be recovered, ie providing for bad and doubtful debts. Department of Education, Science and Training, Annual Report , op. cit., pp ibid. 26

27 Introduction accuraterecordingofthisdebtisimportanttoprovideassurancethatdest s, and the Government s, financial statements correctly reflect the amount recoverable. Higher education changes 1.10 Prior to 1 January 2005 there were four schemes administered under thehighereducationfundingact1988.theseschemesofferedcommonwealth loans to assist students to pay their higher education tuition costs. The four schemes were the Postgraduate Education Loan Scheme, the Bridging for Overseas Trained Professionals Loan Scheme, the Open Learning Deferred PaymentSchemeandHECS In response to a review of Australia s higher education system completed in 2002, the Australian Government announced changes to Australia s higher education policy, which it enacted through the Higher Education Support Act The changes are set out by the Australian Government in the Our Universities: Backing Australia s Future (May 2003) policy ThechangesaffectedthewaytheCommonwealthprovidessupportto students to access higher education. One of the key changes was the replacement of the four previous loan schemes and the introduction of the HELP. On 1 January 2005, the HELP replaced existing loan schemes and became the primary source of Australian Government assistance to students withhighereducationcosts.alldebtsincurredbystudentsundertheprevious schemebecameanaccumulatedhelpdebtat1june Under the previous scheme the Australian Government provided higher education providers with an operating grant based on a broad educational profile (block funding). Subsequent to the above mentioned review,blockfundingwasreplacedbyplacebasedfunding.thismeansthat higher education providers receive funding based on the actual number of students, the value of loans which they access, and the discount payable for upfrontpayments. Proposed review of the changes 1.14 On19December2006,theMinisterforEducation,ScienceandTraining announced the commencement of a review of the impact on the higher 36 Available from <http://www.backingaustraliasfuture.gov.au/reforms.htm>. 27

28 education sector of the Our Universities: Backing Australia s Future (May 2003) policies.destwillconductthereviewin2007and2008andwillreporttothe Minister. The review results may be used to inform consideration of further reforms to the relationship between the Government and higher education providers. 37 The HELP 1.15 TheHELPistheprimarysourceofAustralianGovernmentassistance forstudentstoassistwithhighereducationcosts.itconsistsofthreedifferent loan programmes: HECS HELP, FEE HELP and OS HELP as described in Table The Hon Julie Bishop MP, Minister for Education, Science and Training, Media Release, Review of University Reforms, 19 December <http://www.dest.gov.au/ministers/media/bishop/2006/12/b asp>. 28

29 Introduction Table 1.1 HELP Programmes HELP programme HECS HELP FEE HELP OS HELP Programme description For eligible students studying in Commonwealth supported places (previously known as HECS places). Students have the option of taking out a loan for their student contributions, or paying their student contributions up front and receiving a 20 per cent discount for full up front payments or partial up front payments of $500 or more. The Australian Government assists by providing the HECS HELP student contribution loan, or funding the discount received on up front payments, to the higher education providers. For students who enrol in an eligible unit of study that is not Commonwealth supported. That is, the student pays the tuition fees without a subsidy from the Australian Government. Students can take out a loan for the full amount of their tuition fees, up to a lifetime limit ($ in 2006). A loan fee of 20 per cent applies to undergraduate courses of study. The fee is payable on the day the loan is paid to the student. FEE HELP is available for students who enrolled in non Commonwealth supported places for undergraduate or postgraduate studies. It is also available to assist with the costs of bridging study for overseas trained professionals. For eligible Commonwealth supported students to complete part of their course overseas. In 2006, the maximum loan was $5 095 and a 20 per cent loan fee is applicable. The fee is payable on the day the loan is paid to the student. Individual students may have two OS HELP loans. Source: DEST HELP loans are recorded against a student s tax record and are repayablethroughthetaxationsystem.helpdebtorsarenotrequiredtorepay their loans until their incomes exceed the minimum amount for compulsory repayment. The minimum amount was $ in The Australian Government indexes the repayment threshold annually in line with the movement in average weekly earnings. HELP debtors may also make 38 Information for Commonwealth supported students 2006, p. 25. <http://www.goingtouni.gov.au/nr/rdonlyres/9a a4f6-411d fa4c3003dd5/0/icss_booklet_2006.pdf>. 29

30 voluntaryrepaymentstowardstheirhelpdebtsanda10percentbonus 39 is providedforanyvoluntaryrepaymentsof$500ormore. 40 HECS HELP 1.17 HECS HELP is the largest of the HELP programmes. In 2005, the Australian Government provided over $1.9billion inhecs HELPassistance tostudents. 41 Thisassistanceispaiddirectlytohighereducationproviderson behalfofstudents HECS HELP assistance comes as either a loan available to eligible students enrolled in Commonwealth supported places or as a discount for studentspayingallorpartoftheirstudentcontributionupfrontasfollows: a HECS HELP loan may cover all or part of the amount that a Commonwealth supported student is required to contribute towards theirhighereducationtuitioncost;and a HECS HELP discount of 20 per cent applies if the student pays at least$500ofthestudentcontributionup front. Eligibility for HECS HELP 1.19 TobeeligibleforaCommonwealthsupportedplaceandHECS HELP assistance, a student must meet certain eligibility requirements. Specifically, thestudentmustbe: anaustraliancitizen;or anewzealandcitizenwhowillresideinaustraliaforthedurationof theunitofstudy;or a holder of a permanent visa who will reside in Australia for the durationoftheunitofstudy;and havesufficientremainingstudentlearningentitlement; 42 and The student s tax record is credited with an additional 10 per cent of the voluntary payment amount (where the amount paid is $500 or more). Information for Commonwealth supported students 2006, p. 32. <http://www.goingtouni.gov.au/nr/rdonlyres/9a a4f6-411d fa4c3003dd5/0/icss_booklet_2006.pdf>. This amount comprises $1.6 billion for HECS HELP and $289 million for FEE HELP. A student is entitled to seven years of equivalent full time study in a Commonwealth supported place. The seven year limit does not take into account any study undertaken before 2005, or any units that wholly consist of work experience in industry. 30

31 Introduction be enrolled in a Commonwealth supported unit of study before the censusdate;and submitacompletedrequestforcommonwealthsupportandhecs HELP formonorbeforethecensusdate. Repayment of HECS HELP loans 1.20 Students who accept a HECS HELP loan must repay their loans throughoneoftwomethodsasfollows: compulsory repayments through the income tax system. In , fourpercentofataxpayer sincome 43 willbepaidtowardstheirhecs HELP loan, when their income is between $38149 and $ A sliding scale applies whereby up to eight per cent of a taxpayer s income is to be paid towards their loan if their income is $70847 or higher;or voluntary repayments made to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). Repayments of $500 or more made in attract a bonus and reducetheoutstandingdebtbyanadditional10percentoftheamount repaid. Administering HECS HELP 1.21 ThethreepartiesinvolvedintheadministrationofHECS HELParethe highereducationproviders,destandtheato. Higher Education Providers 1.22 Thehighereducationsectorincludes47institutionsthatareapproved educationprovidersandareallocatedcommonwealthsupportedplaces.the largestofthesehighereducationprovidersareuniversities In the HECS HELP process, the higher education providers are responsiblefor: receivingstudentrequestsforassistance; thecollectionofloanandpaymentinformation; thereceiptofup frontpayments;and theprovisionofliabilityinformationtodest. 43 Equal to taxable income plus any net rental losses, total reportable fringe benefit amounts and exempt foreign employment income. 31

32 Department of Education, Science and Training 1.24 DEST administers the Higher Education Support Act 2003, and funds, in wholeorpart,anumberofsignificantprogrammesandprojectswhicharepart ofthebackingaustralia sfuturechangestosupportthehighereducationsector andstudentsundertakinghighereducation DEST sroleintheadministrationofhecs HELPincludes: collecting student data including loan and payment data from higher educationproviders; estimatingtheamountofhecs HELPassistancethateligiblestudents arelikelytoaccess; providingfundingtohighereducationproviderstocoverthestudents contributiontotuitioncosts; providingstudenthecsloandatatotheato;and monitoringcompliancewiththehighereducationsupportact2003. Australian Taxation Office 1.26 The ATO is responsible for managing the HECS HELP debt accumulatedbystudentsincommonwealthsupportedunitsofstudy TheATO sroleincludes: receiptofstudentloandatafromdest; recordingthehecs HELPdebtsaspartofoverallHELPdebtsagainst studenttaxationrecords; theindexationofoutstandingloanbalances; thenotificationofloanbalancestostudentsonanannualbasis;and collectingandrecordingcompulsoryandvoluntaryrepayments. 44 DEST Portfolio Budget Statements Agency Budget Statements Outcomes DEST, p. 63. <http://www.dest.gov.au/portfolio_department/dest_information/publications_resources/resources/budget _information/2006/pbs.htm>. 32

33 Introduction Audit objective 1.28 Theobjectiveoftheauditwastoassesstheeffectivenessofprocedures and processes used by DEST and the ATO to record HECS HELP student loans.toachievethis,theanaoassessedtheperformanceofdestandthe ATOagainstthreecriteriaasfollows: DEST monitored student contributions set by higher education providersforconsistencywithaustraliangovernmentpolicy; DEST paid HECS HELP advance payments to higher education providers based on sound estimates, and recorded, reconciled and reportedthesepayments;and theatohasestablishedproceduresandprocessestocorrectlyrecord HECS HELPloansagainststudenttaxrecords. Audit scope and methodology 1.29 TheauditfocussedontheHECS HELPbecausetheseloansconstitute approximately83percentofallhelploans.theauditexaminedwhether: student contribution amounts that are being set by higher education providersareconsistentwithaustraliangovernmentpolicy; theadvancepayments 45 tohighereducationprovidersforstudentloan assistancearebasedonreasonableestimates; the advance payments provided to higher education providers are comparedtoactualstudentloandata,andanyoverorunderpayments aretreatedappropriately; amounts for student loan assistance are paid to higher education providersandrecordedindest sfinancialaccounts;and the ATO correctly recorded students loan amounts against the students taxrecords The audit excluded the repayment phase of HECS HELP loans administeredbytheatothroughtheincometaxassessmentprocess. 45 The Australian Government, through DEST, provides the amount of student contribution that students are borrowing to higher education providers throughout the year in which the students incur the debt. DEST pays the higher education providers based on how much DEST considers students will borrow. This payment is referred to as an advance payment. 33

34 1.31 The ANAO audit methodology included quantitative and qualitative analysis,fileanddocumentationreviews,andinterviewswithagencyofficers. TheANAOengagedKPMGtoprovideassistancewiththeaudit. Audit cost 1.32 The audit was undertaken in accordance with ANAO Auditing Standards,atacostof$ Structure of this report 1.33 ThisreportisstructuredintothefollowingfourChapters: Chapter 1 Introduction: This Chapter described the background to the audit, and sets out the audit objective and scope, methodology, and structure of the report. It discusses higher education, and recent changes thathaveleadtotheimplementationofthehelp; Chapter2 SettingStudentContributions:introducesthelegislationforthe administration of higher education and reports on how DEST monitors compliancewithlegislativerequirementsbyhighereducationproviders; Chapter 3 HECS HELP Payments: examines the accuracy of DEST s estimate and payments of HECS HELP to higher education providers, anddest sreconciliation,recordingandreportingofhecs HELP;and Chapter4 AustralianTaxationOfficeRecordingofStudentHECS HELP Debts: examines the transfer of HECS HELP data from higher education providers to DEST, and subsequently from DEST to the Australian TaxationOffice.ItalsoconsiderstheAustralianTaxationOffice srecording of HECS HELP debts to student tax records, notification to students of theirhecs HELPdebtanddisputeresolution. 34

35 2. Setting Student Contributions This Chapter outlines the legislation for the administration of higher education and reportsonhowdestmonitorshighereducationproviders compliancewithlegislative requirements. Introduction 2.1 Australian Government policy on higher education student contributionsisreflectedthroughthefollowinglegislationandguidelines: thehighereducationsupportact2003; the Higher Education Support Act 2003 (Transitional Provisions and ConsequentialAmendments); thehighereducationfundingact1988;and thehighereducationsupportact2003guidelines KeyrequirementsestablishedbytheHigherEducationSupportAct2003 andtheassociatedguidelinesinclude: higher education providers must determine student contribution amounts for all Commonwealth supported places in accordance with HigherEducationProviderGuidelines 47 andtheymustprovideschedules oftheseamountstotheministerbyspecifieddates; highereducationprovidersmustdetermineforeachunitofstudythey provide,theequivalentfulltimestudentload 48 valueforeachunit; thestudentcontributionamountsmustnotexceedacertainamount; 49 and highereducationprovidersmustnotacceptupfrontpaymentsofmore than80percentofstudentcontributionamountsforaunitofstudy As defined in Section of the Higher Education Support Act Section 19-F Higher Education Support Act The Higher Education Provider Guidelines are one example of advice provided under the Higher Education Support Act Guidelines, s Equivalent Full Time Student Load is a measure of the study load for a year of a student undertaking that course of study on a full-time basis. Calculated as the product of the maximum student contribution for a place (as defined in the Higher Education Support Act 2003) and the Equivalent Full Time Student Load value of the unit. This reflects the 20 per cent discount that must be given on up-front payments of $500 or more. 35

36 Tuition costs 2.3 Thereareassociatedcostsoftuitionforeachcourseofstudyprovided by a higher education provider. These tuition costs are passed on wholly or partly to students, through either full tuition fees for noncommonwealth supported students 51 or a student contribution amount for Commonwealth supportedstudents. Commonwealth supported students 2.4 Table 2.1 shows the Commonwealth Contribution Amounts for each Commonwealthsupportedplacefor Table 2.1 Commonwealth contribution amount Funding Cluster Commonwealth Contribution $ Law Accounting, administration, economics, commerce Humanities Mathematics, statistics Behavioural science, social studies Computing, built environment, health Foreign languages, visual and performing arts Engineering, science, surveying Dentistry, medicine, veterinary science Agriculture Education Nursing Source: DEST, Administrative information for providers: student support, Funding and Student Support Branch, Higher Education Group, p. 46. <http://www.dest.gov.au/sectors/higher_education/publications_resources/summaries_brochures/r esources_for_student_administrators.htm>. Student contribution 2.5 The student contribution is the amount that a Commonwealth supportedstudentmustcontributetothecostoftheunitofstudy.thestudent Non-Commonwealth supported students are referred to as fee-paying students. The Commonwealth contribution amounts are for each equivalent full-time student load and are indexed each year. 36

37 Setting Student Contributions contributionvariesdependingonwhenthestudentcommencedstudyandthe courseundertaken AHECS HELPloanmaycoverallorpartofthestudentcontribution amount.adiscountof20percentappliesifthestudentpaysatleast$500of thestudentcontributionupfront. 2.7 Table2.2outlinestherangeofstudentcontributionbandsforonefull timestudentloadin2006. Table 2.2 Student contribution bands for 2006 Student Contribution Band Student contribution range (students commencing on or after 1 January 2005) $ Student contribution range (pre-2005 HECS students who began their course on or after 1 January 1997) $ Student contribution range (pre-2005 HECS students who began their course before 1 January 1997) $ Band 3 (law, dentistry, medicine, veterinary science) Band 2 (accounting, administration, economics, commerce, mathematics, statistics, computing, built environment, health, engineering, science, surveying, agriculture) Band 1 (humanities, behavioural science, stoical studies, foreign languages, visual and performing arts) National priorities (education, nursing) Source: Information for Commonwealth supported students <http://www.goingtouni.gov.au>. 53 The variation in the student contribution amounts coincides with the dates of implementation of new higher education legislation. It affords students the benefits of earlier legislation where they commenced their study under previous legislation. 37

38 2.8 AsreportedinChapter1,studentscanpaytheirstudentcontribution amounteitherinfullupfront,inpartupfrontwiththeremaindertobepaid through a HECS HELP loan, or by deferring the entire amount through a HECS HELPloan. 54 Non-Commonwealth supported students 2.9 Allhighereducationprovidersarerequiredtosettuitionfeesfornon Commonwealthsupportedstudents,foreachunitofstudyofferedinayear Thelegislationrequiresthatthetuitionfeesmustnotbelessthanthe studentcontributionamountchargedforacommonwealthsupportedstudent forthesameunitofstudy. 55 Therearenorequirementsthatlimitthemaximum chargeablefees. Monitoring legislative compliance 2.11 OneelementofDEST sresponsibilityistocheckthatamountscharged by higher education providers for student contributions comply with legislative requirements. The ANAO reviewed DEST s approach to ensuring highereducationproviders compliancewiththelaw DEST has developed sound guidance 56 to help higher education providersinterpretandimplementthestudentsupportpoliciesenactedunder Commonwealthlegislation DEST has also implemented a series of manual and system based checking procedures designed to provide assurance that higher education providerscomplywithlegislativerequirementsonthechargingoffees Specifically, DEST monitors the student contribution set by higher education providers primarily through checks of information provided by thoseproviders.thesechecksprovidedassurancethateachstudent: wasentitledtoreceivehecs HELP; wasnotchargedmorethanwasallowedbythelegislation; waspayingthecorrectfee;and Full up-front payment of the student contribution attracts a 20 per cent discount. A partial up-front payment of $500 or more attracts a 20 per cent discount on the amount paid up-front. Section , the Higher Education Support Act Administrative information for providers: student support, op. cit. 38

39 Setting Student Contributions receivedthecorrectdiscountwhereheorshepaid$500ormoreoftheir contributionupfront DESTperformedothercheckstoprovideassurancethat: higher education providers published timely schedules of student contributionsforeachunitofstudy; 57 and Commonwealth supported students are not charged more than other students However, DEST has not documented these checking procedures. Without documented procedures, there is a risk that procedures will not be implemented correctly or in a consistent manner. This could result in noncompliance by higher education providers with the legislation going undetected. For example, higher education providers may charge student contributionamountsthatarenotconsistentwiththelegislation TheANAOfoundthatDESThadnotcompleteditsmanualcompliance checks in a timely manner. The higher education providers were required to publishstudentcontributionsdatafor2007by1october2006.however,dest had not completed its checks by middecember 2006 which was after the application closing date for many higher education providers. As a consequence,potentialstudentswouldnotknow,priortotheclosingdatefor applicationswithmanyproviders,whetherthestudentcontributionamounts published by these providers was consistent with the allowable student contributionrange(table2.2refers) TheANAOalsofoundthatthemajorityofhighereducationproviders hadcorrectlypublishedtheirstudentcontributiondata.however,onehigher education provider had not published any 2007 data and in three instances, there were minor discrepancies between the maximum student contribution amountallowedandtheamountspublished Since students may rely on the published fee information when deciding which higher education provider to choose, it is important that publishedamountsbeconsistentwiththerequirementsofthehighereducation SupportAct By the required dates (i.e. 1 April and 1 October). In one case a higher education provider published student contribution amounts for two courses of study which exceeded the legislated maximums by $243 and $

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